Posted on December 3, 2013
Photography, for me, began ostensibly as a means to discover the world around me. But the world around me, if I look closely, is a reflection of myself. Often, it is the unexpected discovery that leads me to a deeper understanding of who I am in the moment. What I’m looking for is not what I will ultimately find.
Take for example this beautiful duck.
Limantour Beach, Point Reyes, California. I arrive early in the day. My objective, as always, is nature – trees, grass, dunes. The earth speaks. I listen. There are messages abound in the patterns of sand and water. But here is this thing made not by wind but by hands.
It sat on a dumpster. There was no one around, but there was a crow in a nearby tree watching me as I approached. At first I didn’t know what I was seeing. A crazy-looking duck about the size of a toddler, slumped over and staring at me, as if awaiting my arrival. Upon closer inspection I found it to be saturated with water. It was likely washed up by the waves after having been tossed in the ocean. What I would have given to have been the one to find it there on the beach. But that was not my destiny. The duck was waiting for me where it was meant for me to see and it seemed that the crow was waiting too. He watched me take my photographs, curiously rubbing his beak back and forth across the branch he was sitting on in that strange way that crows do.
So, here were two birds, one real and living, watching my reaction to another, stuffed and perched on a trash receptacle where it was bound for some landfill. What was it thinking, this crow? Did it recognize itself in the form of this effigy? Could it somehow perceive that it was a likeness of something living? I’ve read that crows possess the mental capacity of a 3-year old child.
But I wasn’t thinking about the crow in this moment. I was focused on the duck. How did it get here? What journey did it take in order to arrive right here in this moment before my eyes? From some poorly lit factory in a land far across oceans, fabricated by cheap labor, a wiry Chinese lad with a cigarette dangling from his mouth, or maybe a young mother in Vietnam earning her daily fifty cents, sewing, absently, stitching together a plaything for a wealthy child, some carnival prize for a sinewy teenager hanging from the arm of a slouching boy in low-slung jeans with a wisp of a mustache who flung a ball into a stack of pop-bottles to win his girl a token of his prowess, the big prize fabricated by ghosts and shipped across the sea in a dark container stacked like cordwood on the decks of one of those behemoth ships from the Han-Sing line, bound for a side show where it hung for months above some rigged game of chance, waiting amid the smoke and calliope, coveted by thousands of young girls before it was won on that sultry evening by a rangy young half-man half-drunk on watered down PBR’s yet still deadly with his fastball, and how she carried it in triumph all that night beneath her skinny arm, and then took it home where it sat atop her nightstand staring back at her through the dark of a thousand lonely nights in some Velveteen dream that was never quite fulfilled, and of course he had a name, she gave it to him, and spoke it aluf before he was forgotten and abandoned and tossed away, flung back into the ocean from which he came, the castaway duck riding pelagic on the ocean currents, face down, buoyant, but not as a duck should be, because of course he’s not really a duck but only a facsimile fashioned out of polyester to appear duck-like to simpletons who are so easily deceived.
But that’s just a story I made up in order to endure the agony of its creation and abandonment, in order to justify and explain its existence, its look of bewildered resignation. That’s why I write stories, to endure the pain and feel the joy of this mystery I call living. I took hundreds of photographs that day – trees and sand dunes and objects that were not representations, but true – yet this, this first photograph of the day was the most meaningful, the most lasting, the most surreal. I could have turned around and went home without taking another and called the day good. But the duck and I, we had ourselves a little conversation. Me with my feeble words and surrogate eye, and he with that knowing look in his eyes, a look that says: Who’s the fool now kid?
He was on his way to the dump to rot, forgotten. But I was there to remember him one last time, to recognize that a human being created him and a human being held him and gave him a name, and it’s true, what the Velveteen Rabbit said, that all we need is someone to believe in us in order to live. It is love that grants us eternal life and somewhere someone loved this crazy duck, even if that someone was only me in the last moment of its physical life.
Posted on November 27, 2013
The weathered rear end of a 1965 Chevrolet Impala Super Sport. With taillights that could double as octopus suckers or robot eyes, it seems that it could just open up like some giant bivalve and consume a dairy cow. They were likely meant to convey the appearance of booster rockets, an effect enhanced by the recessed chrome rings that imply a swivel mechanism. The message here was clear: Go Fast and Explore. If you wrap yourself in a missile, who knows what you’ll discover? When you encase your body in steel you are immortal and glorious. Cars have always been our clothes, our armor, our doppelgangers, but it’s been awhile since they were designed to resemble our wildest dreams. But maybe that’s because we don’t have dreams that wild anymore.
When cars were designed to resemble jets and spacecraft they were made right here by proud Americans who looked forward to some future where things would always be getting better, faster and more efficient. Gasoline then was ubiquitous and cheap so the image of a fire-breathing steel rocket was of no concern to the Detroit marketeers who conceived of this prime example of American muscle; nor were we as a nation too worried about the billions we were spending on waging the Cold War under the guise of space exploration.
Gemini rockets and the first space walk were still vivid in the nation’s consciousness when this beauty rolled off the line, as were images of Soviet rockets on the ground in Cuba. But we weren’t going to let a little money, the distraction of the Civil Rights’ movement or even a developing conflict in a country called Vietnam stop us from dreaming big and then chasing those dreams down with a stick. We weren’t going to just build rockets, we were going to drive them.
When this car was still sitting on the drawing board, the men responsible for tapping into our dreams, the car’s designers, still had the fresh images of the Zapruder film clicking through their nightmares. But trauma doesn’t stop us. Violence doesn’t quell the fantasies of who we think we are; or should be. We just put our heads down and move on. Americans don’t dwell long enough on our tragedies. It takes more than the death of a president to shake us and, after all, wasn’t it Kennedy’s dream to begin with? Space? The rockets? He made it his dream in his moon speech; which was really his I have a dream speech.
Those two dreams, equality of space and equality of race defined a set of ideals we were just not ready to accept, at least not together. We could believe in the one but not the other, even though the one we chose, blasting off into space and getting the escaping, was the most far-fetched. Between JFK and MLK the muscle car took off. Three years after this very car hit the streets they shot him too, Martin King, but nothing was going to stop our rockets. We had to escape. The moon was all we had left – so snowy white and smooth. We sure needed a sea of tranquility. We needed a summer of love.
But nobody sees this when you look at this car. We don’t see a steel vault of dreams. We don’t see a golden age of possibility and promise as embodied by the hands of our once proud labor – Michigan manpower, Pennsylvania steel, Madison Avenue sex appeal, good old American know-how. The golden days of Detroit iron. Aepyceros melapus. High-horn. Black foot. The impala. A Zulu word for gazelle. A fast antelope from Africa, the cradle of human kind. Our first hunts, our first chases were for antelopes. Speed, power, grace. This is a car we’re talking about. Or is it? This is us. This is what we imagine that we are. To drive is to inhabit a machine, like some mech-warrior on the asphalt plain. But when was the last time you got in your car and became something else? Something tangible? This car was a dream you could wrap your hands around. Long, wide, streamlined, shark-like, ray-like, manta, skate, sea-life like – and after all isn’t the undersea world as delivered to us by Jacques-Cousteau the closest thing we can get to space? Chevy got us to space in metal sea creatures that hovered in the air at 70 mph. And we’re right there, inside that dream again. All this from a taillight.
But that’s the point of a photograph as I see it. The picture as portal. The image as talisman. On the day I shot this in San Francisco I wasn’t thinking about 1965, the year I was born. I wasn’t thinking about all the fixtures and forces, as Bob Dylan put it, that were shaping the world when this car rolled off the line. I was wandering the back-alleys South of Market behind the courthouse just looking for anything that might capture my imagination. This car did. Ostensibly it was form. I am drawn to the shapes, the geometry of the car. Beneath that there is myth. The Muscle Car. Bigness. Speed. Invulnerability. Only later did I make the other connections, how this car embodies an epoch, a zeitgeist.
1965 is my year. I was born into a world seething with war, violence and hatred. We should have seen what was coming in 1963 when a single, angry lunatic destroyed the leader of the free world with well-placed miniature rocket. But sometimes you sleep on, even though you hear the wake-up call, because you just don’t want to leave the dream. People say to me: Where does all your darkness come from? Where indeed. I was not an unaware child. I heard the radio. I saw the T.V.. Riots, Manson, Bobby Kennedy, Nixon and Vietnam. I wasn’t just watching. I absorbed.
Everything is energy and we’re filled with it, whether we feel it viscerally, as I did, or not. But we’re so numbed out and dumbed-down that we’ve lost our ability to hear the messages and read the signs. All these things I see are signs. My eyes, my heart, my intuition – dowser’s wands. The closer I look the more I see, and the camera gives me time. That’s all it is. The camera, the photograph, stops time to render things as they are, to preserve the now. And when you stop and look around you, you see connections, and messages and meaning in the most seemingly insignificant of things like the taillights of an old car.
o O o
Posted on November 22, 2013
Soon they began coming in greater numbers; despite the warnings and those few who took ill, they came to seek counsel and for healing. For some it was peace. You would always leave with a sense of calm, a feeling of relief, like after a first drink, but it would persist, that feeling, for days sometimes. There were people who won lotteries and recovered from cancer, and some people saw their dead husbands and sons.
We couldn’t keep it a secret any longer. Word got out. They’d march right out into the desert. You’d see a fantastic line of them stretched out for miles, single file. Orderly and calm, and the strange thing was that nobody spoke at all when they were heading out to the Orb, or coming back. It was spooky quiet, like some holy passage to a shrine. Two lines of hopeful pilgrims, one coming and one going, and nothing but the wind and the sound of their feet in the sand.
Some folks would talk to it and others would weep. But there were a few who howled in pain when they touched it for the first time, like they’d stuck their hands into fire. They would run off into the desert, never to be heard from again, shrieking like the swine of the Gadarene. But that didn’t happen often. Mostly you’d see people with that expression of beaming hippie-joy, like they’d just been let in on some wonderful secret of which they were beneficiary.
But some got very sick, as I said. They fell into a coma-like state three days after they’d touched the Orb. They didn’t seem to be suffering. It was like they’d fallen into a deep, hibernating sleep where there was no dreaming, no brain activity at all. This gave people pause, but they came anyway, all kinds of people. There were the homeless and downtrodden as you’d expect, but there were businessmen and doctors too. All walks of life. Many said they felt called. They said they saw the Orb in a dream and just started heading south. It was like some vestige of a migratory gene got turned on. An ancient homing signal.
Bald men grew hair and terribly obese women underwent miraculous transformations. Meth addicts never hit the pipe again. They say it permanently cured depression. Cured it, as in it was gone to never return. Nobody knew why it chose who it did, to cure or to punish. If there were theories nobody voiced them. There just no longer seemed to be the need to gossip or conspire. People were happy all over, not just in proximity to the Orb, but everywhere. The feeling was spreading, and for those who had touched it, and remained unstricken, they found that their own touch could pass the light on. The Orb’s joy was infectious and it spread. And anyone who caught it would see it in their dreams and it would tell them things, sometimes just a word or two, like believe, and be brave. And people listened.
In a matter of months everything had changed. People were no longer afraid. Each person was given a secret they believed was all their own, but it turned out it was the same secret for all. We didn’t discover that until the no-dreamers awakened. That’s what they started calling the coma victims, the sleeping ones. And they told us something else too. They told us that there was a place now were all the stricken had been banished, those who were burned and ran away. And we were to go to them, for it wasn’t true, what everyone had been saying. It was never too late to be saved. They were just not ready. They just needed time to see themselves as they truly were. Sometimes it takes a great shock to make a transformation. Sometimes you need to see you’re own death. We all get there, eventually. That’s something that the Orb told us, also in secret.
I had thought that once word got out there’d be no stopping the greed for it, the violence. I imagined the worst in us would come out, that there’d be a panic, a rush for its destruction. But it didn’t happen. It seemed to neutralize our lower, baser instincts. Every thing I expected us to do in response was wrong. I was wrong. It wasn’t here to be used by us. It was here to use us, to heal us, to change us. I’m the one who found it and was thus the first one changed. What happened was it took away the fear. It neutralized time. And it showed us that we are all the same. That’s what we saw. Reflections.
Posted on November 21, 2013
At first we saw very little that was recognizable; or each other for that matter. We had been scattered all up and down the beach and there was almost no wreckage to be found. But after two or three days we started to find each other.
We came together as a group and combed the beach near the high water mark to salvage what we could. There was some luggage and clothing but not much else. There were four of us altogether and for a long time we didn’t even speak. There were just no words. Language no longer mattered. What could you really say? We walked about in a daze for a week.
Hastings fashioned himself a spear and went off in search of something we could eat. I stayed with the others and helped to build a camp. It was just William Tinner and Laurent Papille and myself. We constructed one of those stick-shelters you find sometimes, where kids go to drink. A lean-to of driftwood and flotsam dug into the sand at the base of the high dunes. It was alright during the day but after dark it grew very cold and I had nothing but a skirt and a light jacket. And I had my purse, if you can believe that. I found it washed up on the beach. Laurent had an overcoat and, after much desperate searching, he also found his briefcase; which he never let out of his sight. I imagined it was filled with money or drugs but he never showed us what he had inside.
Tinner was obsessed with his wristwatch. He insisted on adhering to the rituals of time and dates. Hastings had on that ridiculous yellow suit. We all held onto something. I suppose we had to. Everything else was so strange. Like the way the plane just plummeted out of the sky on a clear, moonlit night. No loud bang, no smoke, no warning. We fell like a stone. And then there was the beach itself. The sand was strange. It was composed of such large grains. It was a beach of small stones and odd things.
On day fifteen we found what Hastings called the Temple. He discovered it on one of his failed hunting excursions, buried there in the sand like some sort of ruin. I’ll admit I was drawn to it. We all were. It was oddly familiar-looking and seemed to possess a power over us. We’d often go out to stand beside it. It made us feel safe and less lonely. We never spoke of it back at camp, nor did we ever make the decision to go to it. We’d just find ourselves standing there before it.
The only time we’d ever really talk is when we were gathered round the Temple. Hastings said it spoke to him. Tinner said it screwed with his watch. Laurent would just stand there and mumble with his eyes closed. He was the first one to lay his hands on it. He said that it felt like it was breathing. I didn’t know what that was about it but it wasn’t a sound or anything I could feel, not physically. It was more like a shadow of a memory, like a name you can’t recall, and in those first weeks all I could do was just stand there and look as if something would make itself known to me if I had enough patience. If I had enough faith.
Posted on November 18, 2013
Where earth meets sky,
where low volume and echo reach,
small windows we wander,
the muttering wood and milkweed,
the thistle round about,
cloudward, gazing, skyward,
to the graying timbers;
the silica, pebbles and lime,
peeling bark and pine-tar,
in the remnants of the meadow,
where that promise stood,
of everlasting coolness,
cupped in cattails,
small, black serpents,
the folds of your dress,
where you stood as a child,
for the one.
Posted on November 16, 2013
A connection between strangers. Two worlds collide. Reality and myth. All lines converge into one. And there she is, preserved forever in my lens, in my mind, in some neuron rearranged to remember – specific geometries, color, the unique configuration of curves that make up a face. In the flash of a moment. Captured in our mutual nows. Her waiting, my seeing, linked by a gaze, a discovery, a recognition. There are no strangers. There is no myth. Nothing is random. Without the exchange of names or stories we are already known.